Apple to the core. For nine years, the Beatles-founded label, Apple Records, released enough singles to fill a 12-disc box set. Only a fan with vision made the effort to compile the wondrous treasure trove of Apple's Eden from solo Beatles' releases to Mary Hopkins and Ravi Shankar. Music critic and book author Dave Thompson hears an Apple a day.


Apple Singles Collection Vol 1: August 1968 - March 1969

Apple Singles Collection Vol 2: March 1969 - July 1969

Apple Singles Collection Vol 3: July 1969 - October 1969

Apple Singles Collection Vol 4: October 1969 - March 1970

Apple Singles Collection Vol 5: May 1970 - December 1970

Apple Singles Collection Vol 6: November 1970 - June 1971

Apple Singles Collection Vol 7: July 1971 - January 1972

Apple Singles Collection Vol 8: November 1971 - 1972

Apple Singles Collection Vol 9: November 1972 - May 1973

Apple Singles Collection Vol 10: June 1973 - February 1974

Apple Singles Collection Vol 11: March 1974 - February 1975

Apple Singles Collection Vol 12: March 1975 - October 1991

In a perfect world, Apple themselves would have seized upon this idea years ago, although it’s doubtful whether even they would have sourced (or even cared about) every one of the songs spread across this 12-CD, 258-track digest.

For starters, the Apple singles catalog itself is only the starting point

Scattered throughout, foreign language rerecordings, unreleased acetates, mono and stereo variations, radio spots, interview snippets and more build up into the most complete portrait of the Beatles’ Apple dream that you could ever hope to build, while the careers of the label’s non-Beatle acts are detailed with as much precision as the Beatles’ own.

Of course the Beatles dominate the package, both collectively (23 tracks, including dialogue from Let It Be and a bizarre union with British DJ Kenny Everett) and individually (88), with the later discs given over more or less exclusively to John, Paul, George and Ringo’s mid-late 1970s output.

But, even if you have the original records, that’s not such a bad thing - between them, the four were responsible for some of the most memorable 45s of the period, and one forgets how effortlessly their ideas dovetailed with one another, even in isolation.

It’s one of Beatledom’s favorite hobbies, compiling solo tracks into some approximation of a post-split "Beatles" album… well, you can stop now.

They did it themselves on single, long ago, while individual cuts like McCartney’s "Another Day," Starr’s "Back Off Boogaloo," Harrison’s "My Sweet Lord" and the Lennons’ "Happy Christmas" might even shade the best of the big band’s output.

The strict chronology of the set does not always work to its advantage. Disc One certainly creaks a little beneath five consecutive versions of Mary Hopkins’ "Those Were The Days" (in English, Italian, Spanish, German and French), no matter how timeless the song itself is. But move onto Disc Two, and the same lady’s "Sparrow" is rendered into Welsh with heartstoppingly lovely results. And if the sequencing of the non-Beatles tracks occasionally throws up some horrific juxtapositions (another Hopkin jewel is immediately followed by the blustering "King of Fuh"; the Iveys are forced to follow a Plastic Ono Band acetate), then that only reinforces the sheer dexterity of the label’s founding principles.

True, no 45s spun off the label’s most challenging releases (Life With The Lions, Electronic Sounds etc), but any catalog that can find room for David Peel, the Black Dyke Mills Brass Band and the Radha Krishna Temple (not to mention Yoko Ono) certainly wasn’t chasing platinum records. Not all the time, anyway.

The label’s big wheels - actual (Badfinger, Billy Preston, Ravi Shankar) and proposed (Doris Troy, Ronnie Spector, James Taylor) - are all well represented, of course, but it’s the minor league attractions that raise the most ears. Lon and Derrek Van Eaton’s low-fi Spectorisms have a lilting appeal that is as thrilling today as it was out-to-lunch back then, while the signing of Chris Hodge suggests that Apple knew the way the winds were blowing in Britain, long before the Brits themselves had figured it out - "Contact Love" is the best early T Rex single that Marc Bolan never made. Plus, five years before the world and its mother was raving about Hot Chocolate’s smooth blending of pop, funk and politics, John Lennon was encouraging them to reggaefy "Give Peace A Chance," and change his sainted lyrics as well!

The Apple dream did not last, although it survived for longer than a lot of people remember. The label was still issuing non-Beatle related material into 1972, four years after its inception, and nine discs into this package, and though Harrison’s "This Guitar Can’t Keep From Crying," midway through Disc 12, marks the end of Apple’s days as a functioning outlet, there were at least sufficient odds and ends to fill the disc with surprises - CD re-edits, odd rerecordings, and even an unanswered mystery, in the form of a mid-1970s single by Nola York, that had no Apple connection whatsoever, beyond an inexplicable Apple catalog number.

A labor of love from start to finish, then, The Apple Singles Collection represents one of the most intelligent, and intelligently compiled anthologies - official or otherwise - ever to materialize. It also reminds us how very few record labels there have been, whose entire output remains worth listening to, decades after the original vinyl turned to muffled scratchiness. So what if the hits didn’t fly effortlessly out of the door? Who cares if nobody remembers Trash today? And does it matter that the sun went down on the Sundown Playboys before it had ever really risen? Each and every one of them was Apple to the core. And that’s the only recommendation you should require.

Dave Thompson is the author of many well reviewed rock biographies, including the recent Virgin Books' Red Hot Chili Peppers biography, works on The Cure and Kurt Cobain. He wrote Cream: The World's First Supergroup which was published early last year. In the past, Dave has written for Live! Music Review and he is also a regular contributor to Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q magazines. Click here to buy Dave's books.

The Apple Singles Collection is part of the BigO Audio Archive. We secured a set at the end of 2005. Only a few extremely rare tracks were from MP3 sources.

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